Wednesday 24 January 2018

Trump faces growing demands to fire Bannon

Donald Trump answers questions about his response to the violence in Charlottesville in the
lobby of Trump Tower. Photo: REUTERS
Donald Trump answers questions about his response to the violence in Charlottesville in the lobby of Trump Tower. Photo: REUTERS

Jonathan Lemire

US President Donald Trump has placed a question mark over the future of top strategist Steve Bannon.

US President Donald Trump has placed a question mark over the future of top strategist Steve Bannon.

Asked to comment on the continued role he will play, Mr Trump responded: "We'll see what happens."

Mr Trump flatly refused to express confidence in Mr Bannon during an impromptu news conference.

"He's a good person. He actually gets very unfair press in that regard," Mr Trump said. "But we'll see what happens with Mr Bannon."

Mr Bannon was a key general election campaign adviser, and has been a forceful but contentious presence in a divided White House. The former leader of conservative 'Breitbart News' has drawn fire from some of Mr Trump's closest advisers, including son-in-law Jared Kushner.

‘Unfair press’: Steve Bannon. Photo: AFP/GETTY
‘Unfair press’: Steve Bannon. Photo: AFP/GETTY

Though Mr Bannon has survived being in the firing line at earlier points in the administration, the president is once more under pressure to fire him.

The anti-Bannon campaign comes as Mr Trump is facing unprecedented criticism for not immediately condemning by name white supremacists and other hate groups after deadly violence last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Of the reactions of some 55 Republican and Democrat politicians collected by the 'Washington Post', only the spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, Kayleigh McEnany, expressed her support.

Veteran Republican Senator John McCain tweeted: "There is no moral equivalency between racists & Americans standing up to defy hate & bigotry."

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO trade union federation, became the fifth prominent business leader to resign from Mr Trump's advisory body, the American Manufacturing Council, over the issue. He said he could not take part "for a president who tolerates bigotry and domestic terrorism".

Mr Trump reacted by saying he is ending a pair of White House advisory councils that were staffed by corporate chief executives.

CEOs have been resigning since Saturday, when Mr Trump blamed both sides for the weekend violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, between white supremacists and counter-protesters.

The resignations accelerated after Mr Trump again blamed "both sides" on Tuesday.

Mr Trump said on Twitter: "Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!"

Speaking to reporters in Trump Tower earlier yesterday, the president said Mr Bannon is a friend and "not a racist".

That less-than-enthusiastic defence called into question Mr Bannon's own assessment of the situation.

He had been telling people that he believed his job was safe, following a conversation in recent days with new Chief of Staff John Kelly, according to a White House official who demanded anonymity to discuss private exchanges.

The decision whether to drop Mr Bannon is more than just a personnel matter. The media guru is viewed in some circles as Mr Trump's connection to his base and protector of Mr Trump's disruptive, conservative agenda. A Tuesday headline on 'Breitbart' equated his potential ousting to the president being urged to "give Trump voters the middle finger".

Ned Ryun, a conservative strategist who occasionally advises the White House, wrote on Twitter: "Cannot tell you how bad a signal it would be to @realdonaldtrump's base if Bannon is forced out."

But Mr Bannon's high-profile and puppet-master image have at times irked a president who doesn't like to share the spotlight and bristles at the suggestion that he needs a liaison to his base.

In April, Mr Trump diminished Mr Bannon's role to that of "a guy who works for me".

The president doubled down on that dismissiveness at Tuesday's press conference, distancing Mr Bannon from his unexpectedly successful presidential campaign. "I went through 17 senators, governors, and I won all the primaries. Mr Bannon came on very much later than that," he said.

Mr Bannon's supporters say Mr Trump is being urged by advisers, such as chief economic adviser Gary Cohn and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell, to fire him.

Mr Kelly has also expressed concerns to Mr Trump about Mr Bannon, and is said to be angry with a flood of negative stories about national security adviser HR McMaster that some in the White House believe are being leaked by Mr Bannon.

Irish Independent

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